Do you find it hard to see things from your spouse’s perspective?
Do you think your spouse should see things exactly the way you do?
Is it easier for you to try to fix things for your spouse rather than listen to them?
If this is true about you or your spouse, you may have a lack of empathy. Situations where you fail to empathize with your spouse can lead to misunderstandings and disconnection. To truly understand empathy, we must define it. Brené Brown defines empathy as “feeling with people.” In its simplest form, empathy means to care as much about your spouse’s likes, dislikes, interests, issues, dreams, goals, and problems, as you care about your own.
It can become difficult in marriage when you recognize that your spouse is so very different from you. According to psychotherapist Cindy Sigal, AMFT, “Empathy bridges the divide between being separate individuals with different backgrounds, feelings, and perspectives.”
How do we build and/or maintain the bridge of empathy between spouses?
1. Listen, Listen, Listen
The greatest need your spouse has is to be seen, heard, valued, and understood by you. This begins with listening to understand them—not to fix a problem. Additionally, give your spouse your full attention within the conversation. Asking questions allows you to become a “compassionate detective” of your spouse. Resist the urge to tell them what to do or how to fix the issue. In doing so, you validate your spouse’s feelings and capacity to solve the problem while utilizing empathy to fuel your connection.
2. It’s Not About YOU
The key to empathy is seeing things from your spouse’s perspective—literally, putting your feet in their shoes. Think about: What do they like to do? How did they grow up? What brings them happiness and what causes them to get upset? What is their favorite activity, food, etc.? How would they see this situation? Practice putting aside your views and thoughts to focus on those of your spouse.
3. Respect Your Spouse’s Differences
At the beginning of your marriage, you may have thought, “It’s so GREAT how different we are.” Now reality has set in and you’re probably thinking, “OMG, WE ARE different.” YES, you are. However, there is strength in your differences. Having different views can give you the opportunity to see the picture/issue from a variety of ways. Allowing each spouse their own perspective provides opportunity for out-of-the-box decision-making as well as increasing mutual respect.
Empathy so often is considered to be the “secret sauce” in relationships. It encourages us to see past ourselves and take our spouse into consideration. It bonds couples together. Building your capacity for empathy builds your relationship.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***